Volume 73, Number 52 | April 28 - May 4, 2004

The next stop will be …your building?

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

Above, two buildings in the East Village identified as possible condemnation sites for the Second Ave. subway project.

As part of the city’s Second Ave. subway project, several buildings in the East Village and Lower East Side may be condemned to make space for station entrances and air shafts, though plans are still unclear and confusing, according to the local community board.

Members of Community Board 3 anticipate the release of the final draft of a document from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that will clarify which area buildings may be affected. As of now, though, members know potential buildings only by photographs the M.T.A. showed them last year, and say they have yet to receive addresses of the potential sites. Members also worry that the time the M.T.A. will allot them for comment might be insufficient.

“It just doesn’t make sense that they’re not telling us the addresses,” said David Crane, chairperson of Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee. “We’re asking the M.T.A. to please give us the addresses so we can make an attempt to contact the owners and tenants of buildings before our meeting.”

The M.T.A.’s preliminary version of the environmental impact statement, a document that analyzes the possible effects of the new line, specified several locations at each potential Downtown subway stop — 14th, Grand and Houston Sts. and Chatham Sq. While the city is trying to make use of empty lots wherever possible, in some locations the only possible choice for shafts and entrances may be the site of an existing business.

Potential sites detailed in the preliminary E.I.S., and on the M.T.A.’s Web site, include a gas station on First St. and Second Ave., which is listed as a potential shaft site, several locations at Grand and Forsyth Sts. and Grand and Chrystie Sts., and some buildings at Third St. and Second Ave. According to Tom Kelly, an M.T.A. spokesperson, the authority did give presentations to the community board, and is trying to work with the community on the project.

“Any suggestion they’ve made so far, we’ve incorporated into the E.I.S. when we were able to do it,” he said, “and any suggestion that they have about construction, we work with them. We try to be good neighbors.”

But Martha Danzinger, C.B. 3’s district manager, says the board never received specific address information. “We heard that other boards got the addresses, but we didn’t get them. We got the pictures and were supposed to work backwards,” she said.

Some landlords are, not surprisingly, anxious about the city potentially condemning their property for the project. “Why there’s even any thought of taking my property when there’s an empty lot a few blocks down on Second St., that makes no sense at all,” said one building owner who has been in the neighborhood for several years and preferred to remain anonymous. “I’d like to know why [the M.T.A.] would not reach out to the owners of private property. I have spent a fortune restructuring this building and have a lot of friends in this neighborhood. I want to pick my time and place to go.”

Crane is also concerned that the period for comments, which he said he was told was 30 days, may not be long enough to introduce the topic to the board and to properly consider the document. A 45-day comment period would be needed to fit the issue into the board’s monthly cycle of meetings, he said. But according to the M.T.A.’s Kelly, the comment period will last from 30-60 days.

Last June, Harvey Epstein, Board 3’s chairperson, issued a motion, on behalf of the board, in response to the preliminary E.I.S., requesting that area businesses forced to move or shut down for the subway project be informed in a “timely manner,” and that ancillary structures such as shafts at stations should be combined wherever possible to decrease the impact on both residents and businesses.

According to Kelly, the final preliminary report will be issued “soon.”

John McCarthy, another M.T.A. spokesperson, said when final decisions on locations are made, the condemnations and acquisitions will be by the book.

“Any situation would be done in accordance with the existing law, which requires strict requirements and notification and negotiation,” McCarthy said. “It would necessitate [M.T.A.] board approval even to begin negotiations.”

Crane plans to send a letter to the M.T.A. requesting advance notice of the release of the final draft E.I.S., and hopes to secure the addresses of the potential locations. “We’d like [owners] to be prepared in advance,” he said. “If they are going to have to relocate, we want them to understand the risk. We understand eminent domain is necessary to build the subway, but we want to be as fair and painless as possible. I wish I just had real information about what’s going on.”

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